GM Melts Down Again On Windshield Washer Fluid Heaters And The Resulting Recalls

Today GM issued a second recall for the heated windshield washer fluid system found in Cadillacs and Buicks. In a small number of cases the system was causing fire.

While it is a small feature, it has been one of those little things that made a good luxury car stand above its peers and build model loyalty. Being able to melt away ice is an extremely nice touch…assuming it doesn’t burn your vehicle to the ground.

Yet when it seems that GM is finally pulling its head out of its collective ass, it goes and falls back into old habits. When the system was first recalled for fire dangers two years ago, dealers installed fuses to cut power in the event of a short. Turns out that this was a knee-jerk bandage that nobody had tested fully for efficacy. (This is what I now refer to as a “floor mat fix” for Toyota’s stupid assumption that tossing floor mats into the trunk would solve unintended acceleration problems.)

So now that the fire risk is still there, GM is simply disabling the feature “under warranty” and paying people $100 for the inconvenience. This is so typical of GM and Ford — if something doesn’t work and it might cost time and money to fix, simply take the most immediate and short-term cost-effective path. When Ford recalled Expeditions for faulty cruise controls, the fix was to disable them. After years of listening to thousands of fifth-generation Corvette owners complain about faulty column locks not releasing steering wheels, GM didn’t fix the steering lock, rather they updated the fuel management system to ensure that nobody could actually drive when the column lock jammed. Now many of these Corvette and Expedition owners are former GM and Ford clients.

As for the $100 rebate, one has to wonder if this is less than the price paid by buyers of cars with the feature…and before people start writing in about it being “standard equipment”, the price of all features are simply built into the price — usually with a nice markup.

If GM wants to be treated like a big-boy company again, it needs to stop making childish mistakes. BMW, Audi and Mercedes wouldn’t disable any feature with which it found problems, much less one considered a competitive advantage, so why would GM? Instead of wasting money paying $100 to each owner (although I understand that given the mediocrity of some of the so-equipped models that the number of owners is relatively small), cancel the country club weekend, have the executive assistants hold all calls, and actually FIX THE FREAKING PROBLEM. After that, spend the next week testing it until everyone is dead-ass certain the issue is gone for good.

At the end of the day, if GM is to revolutionize the world with the Volt plug-in hybrid technology (which is slated to eventually power every front-wheel-drive car GM produces,) it needs all the consumer confidence it can get. How can buyers trust a car running on troublesome and fire-prone lithium ion batteries at high voltage if it comes from a company which is either incapable or unwilling to make high school techonolgy-level hot water bottle heater circuits work safely?

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